Monday, March 23, 2009


Pontypool (Canada, 2008) directed by Bruce MacDonald

I was dragged somewhat reluctantly to see this film by the husband but I'm glad that I went. Based on a novel by Tony Burgess whom I knew slightly from when I was the Fiction Editor of a quirky little lit mag called Blood & Aphorisms which was run into the ground with its staff dispersed by its new avaricious owner/publisher many years ago in the 1990s. He shall remain unnamed as he thrives on any media mention good or bad. But that's another story (or blog) I fear. Listen to Burgess talk about the film here.

Burgess' fiction work always left me a little cold if intrigued. He's obviously very bright and writes fiction in an ingenious way which at times verges on what might be described as the horror genre but the work is too smart and interesting to be labelled merely as such. This is how the film struck me as well. The psychological terror elicited is truly disturbing (with a minimum of gore I might add).

On his way to work on a wintery Valentine's Day morning, radio personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) finds himself confronted with a strange woman wandering around in the snowstorm trying to communicate something to him. She is obviously distressed but disappears before he can find out what's wrong. As TIFF's Steve Gravestock has so cleverly put it in a description of the film when it premiered at the film festival last September, Mazzy looks and sounds a bit like shock jock Don Imus but one who likes to quotes Norman Mailer and Roland Barthes on air.
He arrives at The Beacon, a small radio station based in a church basement in the town of Pontypool, perturbed and intrigued, sharing this info with his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle). The day rapidly spins out of control. Weather reports and traffic updates, brief announcements about school closures give way to a series of strange radio announcements as communicated by the station's lone roving reporter Ken Loney, voiced by Rick Roberts, who allegedly is flying around in a chopper above Pontypool but in actuality sits in his car at the top of a hill to survey traffic in the small town.
A group of people have attacked and destroyed the practice of Dr. John Mendes (Hrant Alianak) and the OPP are having a shootout with a group of people who were ice fishing. The suspects, or rioters, are reported to be speaking gibberish, running around naked and, in some instances, missing body parts. They are obviously zombies we realize but how did they become so?

Slowly Sydney and Grant are able to piece together that the virus is spread by language, the English language specifically, and hastened by "terms of endearments". Okay, here's where it gets weird ... However, the zombies are not infected by the French language which both Grant and Sydney speak a little of. Which means what? That if we Canadians were truly bilingual we might stave off disaster here in Canada? Is my little brian thinking too hard on this one? My reading of this is strengthened by BBC reports from a twitty British broadcaster on the telephone fed to Grant and Sydney that "French Canadian forces" have landed in Pontypool and are attacking the zombies (this turns out to be true).
This is a very interesting writer. In talking about the film, he described the zombies as being "metaphors for metaphors that keeping hunting you long after their meaning as figures of speech have left the stage". Hmm, chew on that for a bit ...

Much of the horror is off screen and frighteningly effective as the zombies attack the radio station and try to get in: we sometimes see only bits of these creatures, sometimes through a blood smeared glass or hear the devastation through a phone call to the station listened to by the horrified Grant, Sydney and Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly), the station's technician. Good thing too ... I don't know how much more I could have taken if it was more graphic. As it was I was reduced to covering my eyes during particularly frightening segments ... gulp!

A wonderful, bizarre film. Regrettably only showing in two cinemas in the GTA. Get'im while they're hot folks.

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